It’s a lot. I still don’t feel ready to write about it.
But here’s the thing: I showed my manuscript to a publisher and they’ve offered me a book deal!
It’s going to be a book! It’s going to be in shops!
Nup. Still can’t get my head around it.
I was in the middle of a wedding rehearsal when I found out. It seemed wrong to shriek the news out across the church when I probably shouldn’t have been looking at my phone in the first place. When I got home, Christopher (who is now 14) had made a delicious lasagne, but had only just put it in the oven. He is an excellent cook, but sometimes struggles with the project-management side of things (it was 7:45pm). The younger children were hyper-hangry and fighting. I had a brief moment of joyful glee with my husband, before he had to sign in to two Zoom meetings at once (I don’t know how that works either).
It was only after I warmed up plates of lasagne for the kids, only after I got them ready for bed, only after I drove to McDonalds to pick up Matilda from her job, only after I gave her a driving lesson home, only after I got my own slice of lasagne from the oven and put it on a plate that I was able to grapple with the idea.
“Dammit.” I said, and dug around in the fridge drawer for a bottle of Prosecco that was on special at Liquorland the week before. I popped the cork and grimly poured myself a glass. Then I looked at the glass. It’s been almost five years. It’s been longer if you count the time writing for my blog. All of the snatched sessions writing in cafes and libraries and in the car (like I am right now). I try to summon up some kind of response. I’m going to be published.
Then my husband came out of his meetings and we watched an episode of Ted Lasso together.
The next day, I had a couple of people over and was berating myself as I company-cleaned for the first time in many months. I am not kind to myself in these situations. My internal monologue goes like this: “How did you let things get this bad?” “What is wrong with you?” “Look at that mess!” “You are a FAILURE!” But I stopped for a moment as I tipped out filthy mop water. I may be a domestic failure, but I DID just sell my novel!
Since then, I’ve managed to feel joy through other people’s reaction to the news. The idea of being published is like a small smiling thought, warming me from the inside. And now I’m telling you, and it feels like the biggest thing. Because you’re my reader community, my biggest supporters from the start. It’s too big. I don’t have words. I didn’t plan it, but it turns out today is my blog’s nine year anniversary! Thank you for everything. I would never have done it without your support.
So we’re in deep dark lockdown here in Melbourne again. We’re not allowed to leave the house, except for five reasons, we have a curfew at night, and the playgrounds are shut. This is our sixth lockdown. It’s hard.
Do you remember how I sometimes go into manic Pollyanna mode when stressed? That’s what happened this time when they tightened the restrictions and I realised things were going to get really miserable. Up until then, I’d kind of been mooching through lockdown, every day looking like the one before. But last week, it was time for me to get off the couch and put my big girl pants on. It was time to Mum Up.
Here’s what I did:
I brainstormed a bunch of fun activities that we could still do, even in the strictest of Locky Ds. Every morning, we draw one out of the jar and do it.
It sounds simple, I know, but I can’t tell you how much sunshine this jar has brought into our life. In the past, we’ve brainstormed on butcher’s paper, but I’m telling you: the jar makes all the difference. Here’s why:
You only have to do ONE fun thing a day.
You don’t have to make a DECISION ever.
The kids look forward to the lucky dip event even more than the actual activity.
As a bonus, the kids don’t drag their feet about getting ready in the morning. We don’t do the lucky dip until everyone is dressed and fed.
We no longer have to deal with a long stretch of days that all look the same.
I shared (rather smugly) this idea with some friends from parkrun. One of the women lives alone and has made herself a jar full of grown-up activities which she draws out once a week. Last week, she bought herself fresh flowers. I can’t wait to find out what she does next.
Here are some of the activities we have in the jar:
Pancakes and french toast
Decorate a birthday cake for no good reason
Fake-away night (make take-away style food)
Board game night
Free day off school (primary school only!)
Zoom kahoot quiz with friends
Video game tournament
Everyone gets to choose a treat for themself in the online grocery shop
Make caramel popcorn
Walk in the park to collect things for a flower mandala
I’m trying to remember to take photos. When we made the caramel popcorn, we put some in a bag to deliver to the family who lives behind us. BUT I FORGOT TO TAKE ANY PHOTOS. What is the the point of doing something impossibly wholesome if you don’t document it?
Pippi, my youngest, is now worried that lockdown will be over before we get to do all the fun things. I don’t think she needs to worry too much. This is Melbourne, after all. We’ll always have another lockdown to look forward to.
Here’s an article I wrote for The Majellan last year (I think it appeared in the Autumn 2020 issue). In case you’re wondering: yes. Majellan, Champion of the Family, is the same A5 magazine your mum used to read when you were five! If you’d like to subscribe, it’s quite reasonable. Let them know I sent you!
Thunk, thunk, thunk. I hate this. I hate this so much. Thunk, thunk, thunk. Surely it’d be easier to shift a huge bag of potatoes. Thunk, thunk, thunk. I can’t breathe. I need to stop. Thunk, thunk, thunk. This is the worst. Thunk, thunk, thunk. OK. Just to the next tree.
I’m not sure how, but I’ve become a Person Who Runs. I mean, obviously it didn’t just happen. I got one of those Couch to 5k apps and obeyed the little robot voice that told me to “RUN-for-ONE-minute”; I obeyed when “ONE-minute” became “FIFteen-minutes”; and then, when I finally managed to run five kilometres without dying, I joined the local parkrun with my friend Jacinta.
Have you heard about parkrun? It’s a free timed 5k run that’s held every Saturday at parks all over Australia. The one near me is a real community event for people of all ages and abilities, plus their dogs and their babies. I’m a fan, even when I’m not enjoying the running part.
It’s weird that I’ve taken up running. I don’t look like a runner. If I’m honest, I look like a lady who has been pregnant so many times, her body has forgotten how to look not pregnant. And I don’t enjoy running, though I do enjoy the smug feelings that come at the end of it.
I’ve come a long way from when I first started out. For one thing, I figured out how to settle into a rhythm, and breathe so I’m not gasping like a fish all the time. I also worked out that I need to firmly strap down all of the parts of me that jiggle. This was a game-changer. When I get dressed for a run, I’m like a sailor preparing for a storm on a ship. A large, unwieldy, overly bouncy ship. Batten down the hatches, folks.
There’s a boy up ahead of me running with his mother. He’s over it. “This is stupid! I don’t want to do this! I want to stop! My legs hurt!” For a moment, I stare at him. It’s as if my subconscious has come out of my body and manifested itself as a small child. Has the voice in my head taken human form?
At primary school, I wasn’t one of the sporty kids. When the class needed to be divided into teams, the teacher would appoint two captains to take turns choosing classmates for their side. As their teams grew, their teammates would whisper suggestions. I can still remember the disappointed, reluctant shrug my captain would give at the end, when he realised every other child had been chosen and he would have to assign me to his team. I tripped over, dropped balls, and was oh-so-slow. I was a liability.
The thought of having to run scared me. Like, properly scared me. Behind my eyelids, I can still see my classmates waiting for me at the opposite end of the oval. They finished the cross-country course ages ago. They are bored. As I flounder along, they seem to get even further away. I am never going to get there. Those tiny specks at the end of the oval, they’re annoyed with my freakish incompetence. It’s never going to end. I will be stumbling across this oval for the rest of my life.
I don’t want to sound disturbed, but when I run, I need to fight a chorus of voices in my head. Along with my entire Grade Four PE class, I studiously ignore the judgey voices telling me that taking time out to run is selfish, that I’m a Bad Mother. And it would seem I’m not alone here. Many mums put their own health last when sorting out priorities. We would rather be unfit, than be seen as an unfit mother. It’s hard to convince myself that exercise will help me to be a better parent in the long term, but I know I must.
And so I plod on. I’m not going to be the fastest, or the strongest, and I’m definitely not going to be the one who looks cute in running clothes. My super power is that I turn up, no matter what. In winter, I splash through puddles, rain streaming down my face. In summer, I plough through the dust and the heat. Jacinta finishes a full fifteen minutes ahead of me and waits to cheer me on at the finish line.
There is something wonderful about running in a group of encouraging people. That man who always finishes in the top ten per cent doesn’t know it, but his gruff nod and “well done, keep it up” means the world to me. Somehow, acknowledgement from the fast runners gives me permission to be there.
Running is a great way for me to sort out the chatter in my head, and is well suited to prayer. When my friend’s baby was in the NICU, I managed to pray a full rosary while running. I counted decades on my fingers and huffed out prayers to fit the rhythm of my pace “Our FA-ther, who art in HEAV-en, hallowed be thy NAME…” I offered my pain up for the tiny little fighter all covered in tubes. It felt good to be actually doing something, instead of feeling powerless.
It can feel, sometimes, like taking time out to run is selfish, that I’m cheating my family by doing something for myself. I know this isn’t true. My kids need a healthy mum. Lately, my fourteen-year-old daughter has joined me on a Saturday morning. Matilda is a natural runner, very fast and completely unselfconscious. I love sharing this time with her, even if I’m running miles behind!
At the turn-around point, I’m really struggling. The anguish is written so plainly on my face, when I pass Complaining Boy, his mum points to me. “See, Timmy,” she says in an encouraging voice, “you’re not the only one who’s struggling!”. In my gasping and spluttering, I have become a Teachable Moment. Happy to help, lady.
But here’s the funny thing. After eighteen months of lumbering along with no improvement, I’m starting to see some changes. While my body hasn’t yet remembered how to look not-pregnant, I’ve lost a lot of weight. These days, I rock more of a first-trimester physique. And my times are getting faster. I’ve almost caught up to Jacinta. Last Saturday, one of the parkrunners approached me.
“Hello,” she said, “I’m just a random stranger.”
“Hello, Random Stranger,” I said.
“I wanted to say I’ve noticed how much you’ve improved over the past month. You’re running so fast!”
As I smile, and thank the random lady, I catch Jacinta’s eye. My pragmatic, no-nonsense friend is crying. “I’m just so proud of you,” she sniffles.
Well, that’s the end for me. I didn’t mean to get emotional, but tears immediately spring to my eyes and Jacinta and I become a sobbing, hugging mess as Random Stranger carefully backs away. It’s silly. It’s just sport.
Except that it’s not. It’s friendship and community and health and discipline. It’s a clear head and a place to pray. It’s being a Good Mum. It’s self-care. It’s telling my Grade Four captain that I do deserve to be on his team. It’s refusing to be afraid. It’s the reason why, when I go on holidays, I look up the local Mass times and the local parkrun. It’s finally reaching the other end of that oval.
I wipe my face, smile and shrug. “See you next Saturday!”
I need to find a new place to write. My glorious writer’s retreat, the empty house of my parents-in-law, is no more. They had the audacity to come back from Adelaide and actually want to live in their own house. Did you ever! Libraries aren’t open when I want them to be and I don’t want to take up a table for too long in a cafe that’s struggling to get back on its feet. And I can’t work at home. If I’m at home, everyone automatically assumes I’m in charge. And there’s no space. My eldest daughter sleeps in an ACTUAL CUPBOARD. Last week, I did some work on my novel in the car with a drive-thru coffee, parked next to the local community gardens. I prop my phone on the steering wheel and get it to talk to my bluetooth keyboard, on my lap.
There was this grey noisy miner that kept attacking my side mirror. It wanted to show that other bird in there who’s boss. It wouldn’t have done that if it were a raven or a magpie. Ravens and magpies are smart enough to recognise their own reflection. But noisy miners are stupid, stupid birds.
I tried to ignore it and work on my novel. I did a lot more frowning than I did typing. After a bit, a police car crawled slowly past me. When it got to the end of the street, it did a u-turn and crawled slowly back. Both policemen were watching me as they approached. I hastily pulled up my face-mask. Was I doing something illegal? I don’t need the four reasons to be out of the house anymore, do I?
The car pulled alongside mine and the driver motioned for me to wind down my window. He peered at me “Is everything OK?”
Everything was not OK. My manuscript was a mess and I was starting to doubt my ability to ever make it into a coherent whole. Every scene was missing beginnings or endings and peppered all over with [SHOUTY NOTES]. I was ridiculous for ever thinking I had the skills to take this on. A flock of kamikaze birds kept hurtling themselves into the mirror next to me, making me jump. And I needed to find a way to make Harper’s story work. How was I ever going to make Harper’s story work?
I nodded like a maniac and garbled something about writing. I waved my bluetooth keyboard at them, “I have kids at home!” I exclaimed.
The policeman frowned and drove off. I forgot to mention that my kids at home were being adequately supervised. Oh well.
Today I’m going deep water running with a friend. I have no idea what ‘deep water running’ is, but I’m doing it in person with a friend, so that’s all I really need to know. I’m in the carpark of the council pool right now. I’m an hour early on purpose. And here’s the thing: Nobody looks at you funny if you’re doing work in your car at a pool carpark. Everybody is doing work in their car at a pool carpark. I’m now googling the carparks of all of the local sporting complexes to compare their varying benefits as writer’s retreats. It’s very possible the rest of this novel will be written outside of a place with “SAC” somewhere in its name.
One of the magazines I write for is an 120-year-old publication called Madonna. It’s a magazine about spirituality in everyday life for lay Catholics. It’s always a great read and the short reflections on the readings of the day are always full of insight. Especially the ones on the seventh of the month, because I write them. Unfortunately, things are looking pretty dire for Madonna. If they can’t get their subscription numbers up, they’re going to have to close down.
So I need you to have a think. Are you looking for something to enrich your prayer life? Do you have a friend or parent or aunty who might benefit from a gift subscription? Would you like to get your Christmas shopping done early? This is where you need to go:
In the meantime, I thought I’d share an article I wrote for Madonna last year. It feels rather poignant now, for us Melburnians, when we can’t have anyone at our house. If you buy the upcoming Spring edition, you can read my thoughts on being quarantined at home with six children. There is no swearing this time, I promise!
I want to be a hospitable person. I really do. I fantasise about friends and neighbours dropping in at any time and feeling nurtured by my home. Can you picture it? My house wafts with the smell of baking cinnamon teacake, there are fresh-picked flowers on the table, my kitchen is immaculate, and I somehow have a perfect hour-glass figure, which makes my handmade apron look really cute. Then I set out a casually effortless meal so delicious and lovely that my friends scrabble to take Instagram pictures (#impromptucatchup #friendlyf #sospoiled) whilst I smile and shrug and look relaxed.
I have six children. That was part of the plan, you see. I’ve always wanted the vibrancy and hospitality of a large family. But, while I’ve acquired the children, I haven’t quite got the hang of the hospitality.
Here’s where I get stuck: my house is in a state of constant disarray, and that’s putting it politely. I’m looking at the book-case at the moment. It has bath toys in it. Why? And there are swimming goggles on the kitchen bench. A tower of clean washing glares at me from the couch: why won’t you fold me? And in every, every corner and crevice are marbles, lego pieces, random play money, and Coles Mini Shop collectables. I’ll invite people over when the house is tidy. It’s bound to happen one of these days.
In the meantime, hospitality remains a vague ideal that I do nothing about. I’m ashamed to admit this, but the idea of inviting my parish priest over for dinner – to an oppressively messy house and chaos cooking – so paralysed me that our last PP finished his term and moved away without ever receiving an invitation. I’m determined to make amends with our new PP, but I worry: what if word gets back to my old PP that I’m having dinner with the new PP even though I never invited the old PP in his entire 7-year term? He’ll think I secretly hated him the whole time. These thoughts keep me awake at night.
When I hear the story of Jesus telling Martha, who was stressed-out with hosting, that she should sit down and be present, like Mary, part of me wants to roll my eyes and say “Typical man! He doesn’t recognise the work that needs doing!” But then I realise this means I think I know more than God, so I tone it down. Perhaps I do need to take Jesus’s message on board: it’s not important whether the house is perfect or the food impressive. Let’s just be together among the mess!
So what if I find the idea of dinner intimidating? There are plenty of other ways to be hospitable without hosting dinner parties. I’m getting pretty good at the post-school-run morning tea that sometimes becomes also a cheese-toastie lunch. Lately, I’ve been playing with the idea of setting a fire in the backyard firepit and inviting friends over for some roast chestnuts and experimental damper. Or maybe I could make a trip to the playground with another mum a bit more special by bringing hot chocolate and biscuits. A friend of mine did this for me once and ever since I’ve considered it an Ultimate Life Goal. Meanwhile, I don’t own a thermos. Or maybe I could host a potluck? Come over for dinner – except I need you to bring the dinner!
In the meantime, as I wipe crumbs and mop spills (I maintain that it’s actually OK to cry over spilt milk, if it’s the fifth spill that morning), I can remember that what I am doing is not mere drudgery. It’s a form of ministry. I am making my home fresh and welcoming for guests. And if guests arrive after the fifteen minute window in which my house remains tidy, I’ll invite them in anyway. Because that’s what hospitality is about.
I’ve had a few requests to share the comments I ended up deleting because they were too snarky. Here are the sweepings from the cutting room floor. I don’t take much convincing – they were my favourite bits!
Here we go:
1. “I was using the phone to get work done. Although, from what I know about you, being a working mum is another thing to be sneered at. I know you think I shouldn’t be working. But we don’t get to relax on a single income. As a generation, we have to hustle. I know you’re a Boomer and it was different for you, well done. Just so you know, #metoo isn’t a conversation about which one of your friends has bought another investment property.”
2. (this one just has an extra bit at the end) “It would be easier, perhaps, to put my baby into childcare for one day a week. Then I could get some rest, get my freelance work done. But I don’t dare to. I’m still haunted by those cartoons you did when I was a teenager. The baby in creche, all alone, staring at the ceiling, wondering why Mummy doesn’t love him (“Call her a cruel, ignorant, selfish bitch if you like, but I will defend her”). Do you remember? You did them in the 90s, back when you were still relevant.”
3. “I’m guessing you were that man in his seventies. I saw you in the cafe I passed, reading the paper with your avocado toast, before sauntering home to dash off your latest judgey cartoon.
That cartoon. My brain picks at it like a dried scab. I can’t help myself. I spent the best part of this week in the exclusive company of a small person whose conversational qualities are limited to say the least. My brain needs something to work on. I can hear your defenders inside my head: “Somebody’s sensitive! Guilty conscience?” But it’s not that. Well, it’s not just that.
Look, I have notes. Firstly, I liked how you rhymed ‘pram’ with ‘Instagram’. That’s the cartoon’s main strength. The poem’s meter is a little off. Plus, it would have been funnier if the baby were given a name, don’t you think? (“poor little Hunter” reads better than “beautiful bubby”). Also, next time, try making the cartoon two years ago, before the topic has become overworked and trite. I just think that if you’re going to insult me, you should do a better job of it. Be edgy, you know?”
Thank you for letting me get that off my chest. I feel like I’ve just been to confession. As you can see, I have a wise editor who protects me from myself!